Tuesday 12 January 2021

James Pax... Big Talent In Little China

Interview With Asian / American Film & TV Regular Throughout The 80’s & 90’s, And On Into This 21st Century, Instantly Recognised As The Elemental Fu Fighting Force Of Lightning, From Big Trouble In Little China (1986), Actor, Singer, Male Model & Film Maker... Mr. James Pax.

(January 2021)

Ballistic Blood Bullets, in association with The Geek Legion Of Doom, are honoured by the opportunity to chat with James Pax. One of the clean cut, fresh faced, fighting Fu Action & Drama Asian actors with a prolific, and highly watchable, resume of work over the last four decades. A scene stealing performance, at a very young age, as Lightning, one of the three Elemental Forces, from Director John Carpenter’s 1986 Action classic, Big Trouble In Little China. A regular guest support star in a multitude of great American TV action shows that include, T.J. Hooker, MacGyver, Tour Of Duty, Matlock, Nash Bridges & Martial Law, appearing alongside fellow Chinese martial arts Action star Sammo Hung. American movie roles with leading star names such as, Charles Bronson, Donald Sutherland, Chuck Norris, Helen Mirren & George Peppard brought experience & one heck of a Cool calling card for the rising young talent. Hong Kong cinema then gave James bigger roles & the deserved chance to work with such Asian Cinema greats as, Johnnie To, Michelle Yeoh, Anita Mui, Maggie Cheung, Anthony Wong, Simon Yam & many others.

James has a varied & interestingly diverse career pathway to his acting success & having spent time in more recent years building his own business enterprise, as well as developing his love for film through the cinematic craft of producing & directing film, James is soon to return both in front of & behind the camera with a big screen Action Adventure project to be excited about …

[Paul] A Very Warm Welcome to you James. Thank you so much for taking the time out from your very busy schedule to share some of your fascinating life story, focusing of course on your wonderfully rich & highly entertaining wealth of Television & Movie making roles down the years. Most Western audience folk will likely know you best for your Impressive appearance as the character Lightning from Big Trouble In Little China. Was it a role that you enjoyed & how well was the character, & indeed the film itself received in Asia ?

[James] I truly enjoyed being in the movie. It was a long two months shoot. The costume fitting took three times already. My Straw hat was huge, bigger than the real ones that warriors wore during the 18th century. The one they made for my costume was almost ten pounds in weight & almost as wide as my shoulders. So they had to find a way to settle it upon my head, since I do so much action it on. But I got used to wearing after a few days. I heard the hat was later auctioned off for a lot of money. I’m glad that someone got it because I would love to have one to keep in my own bar, Hot Lips, as memorabilia for my guests and fans to see. Who ever has one please do let me know. I’m curious to find out who the lucky one is that has got it now.

How did the role opportunity present itself to you & was John Carpenter an on set creative assistance to you in developing the character, or did he immediately like what you were bringing to the part & leave you to showcase your natural talent ?

John Carpenter was very specific to let me know what he wanted. He said to do something powerful when I dropped down from the sky with the lightning ride. So I created this powerful strike fist form to allow the special effects guy to later add in. I did it with small pauses in between. So as with the tunnel shot scene John Carpenter said to come into this squarish room and fire up your lightning everywhere. So I created the four corners strike. I Didn’t know at the time of doing that it would then become so effective & visually powerful. Then when I walked away from that sequence, the ceiling dropped down with a big fire burning behind me. After that I chased after Kurt Russell's character, Jack Burton, in the same tunnel. Total Fun & an honour to work with such a legendary Director, whom I respected so much for many of his other great works, such as escape from New York (1981) among many other films of his.

The other two colourful & enjoyably energetic roles of your combined trio of Elemental villains were of course played by, Carter Wong (Thunder) & Peter Kwong (Rain), were you aware of their own already established acting careers before pairing up with them for Big Trouble In Little China ?

Big Trouble was my first movie in Los Angeles. I was not aware of Peter Kwong until we met on the set. Carter Wong did movies in Hong Kong. I only knew of him through his screen appearances. It was good to meet him. Carter now lives in Macao.

Carter Wong was already an established & World recognised star of Kung Fu film from the Seventies, & Peter Kwong had built up an almost parallel career in Asian Cinema & American TV work, as you yourself were later soon to aspire to. Were either or both approachable or forthcoming to help & advise you, or indeed assist in shaping your acting & choice of roles for in the years to follow ?

Yes, both were approachable and good to work with. No they had nothing to do with shaping my career. I did everything on my own with hard work and endeavour. My agent in New York though really helped me out a great deal, and gave good advice to get my career started in movies & then on into TV. Without him & his agency I would not be here today.

Did you have the option to choose which of the three Elemental characters you wanted to play, or was it a case of seniority pick first by Carter Wong & Peter Kwong ? If you could not have been Lightning, which of the other two characters would you have liked to have played ?

No, Lightning was given to me by the choice of John Carpenter. However I would have liked to play the leading man character of Jack Burton’s side kick Wang Chi, played by Dennis Dun. But after doing my role I realised the storms character was more memorable to the greater audience. I don’t regret doing it. When I first got the script I did think how come he doesn’t speak much !? Where is my line to show my good acting ? Ha-ha ! After that I realized that good acting doesn’t need to have lines. Live and learn James !

Are there any on the set stories or memorable moments for yourself from Big Trouble In Little China that you may be able to share with us ?

I can’t recall too much, but I do remember working with two beautiful ladies in that movie. It was enjoyable to meet Lo Pan (James Hong) though. A Cheerful character always. We were in the convention in LA together again several years back, and he was a laugh to me and to the fans. Ha-ha !

Your first Big Screen appearance came with an American production, and with an Action star that is pretty tough to top in anyone's acting career, Chuck Norris no less ! The movie of course being, Invasion U.S.A (1985). How excited were you to be told that you were to have such an opportunity at such a young age ?

I was happy to get the part so soon after Big Trouble In Little China came out. Again, not much lines to say, but I was one of the International Terrorist team. It was fun making the movie with great locations in the swamps in Georgia. Chuck was a legend of course, a very down to earth kind of guy. A big production with tanks and soldiers running about everywhere. The movie really gave an early warning sign before 911 came along.

Invasion U.S.A not only starred Chuck Norris, in his prime, but also one of the best mid budget production regular go to bad guy greats of the time, Richard Lynch. What are your memories of this early experience for you & were you able to rub shoulders with either Chuck Norris or Richard Lynch, and if so how did you find them as both actors & off set regular people ?

Richard is an actor with so many credits. But Chuck was the absolute star that sells the film. I had a small character part to play, so stay quite, watch and learn about the production.

Before your break in American Film & TV you spent a year working as a stock analyst on Wall Street, & honed your acting by doing Off Broadway stage plays in New York City. How was that early life style for a young guy finding his way in the city that never sleeps ?

Yes stock brokerage was my family business in Hong Kong, thus I had the opportunity to work in Wall street. But the acting bug was always in me. So I quickly jumped back into acting.

At such a young age you seemed to cram so much into your life & truly have embraced living during the early period of the 1980’s, even managing to become a sought after name & face in Europe as a male model, working the Italian catwalks for the likes of Top fashion house designer Armani. Is it true that you became the first Chinese model to ever appear on a Milan walkway stage ? This must have been an exhilarating & high confidence building time for you at such an early stage of your life. Do you look back upon those days with fond memories ?

I was an energetic teenager. Whilst I was studying in high school in New Jersey, I was training myself in kung fu, learning fencing, body building & playing a bit of soccer as well as some long distance running. Ping pong was also one of my favourite things to do. But my ultimate love was kung fu Training, learning all the moves of Bruce Lee. He was my absolute hero. He made any Chinese man proud of their heritage.

Working so hard & diversely clearly paid off & led to acting role opportunities back in America with appearances for you in shows such as, Scarecrow And Mrs. King (1986), T.J. Hooker (1986), MacGyver (1986), Stingray (1987), Tour Of Duty (1987). This must have been a fast & furious time for you, almost stepping from one show role to another in quick succession & surely hard to recall particular characters or plot lines that you played a part ? During this time though Please can you share any memories of working with Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner on the set of T.J. Hooker.

Yes, William Shatner is a great pleasure to work with. Lots of acting to do. I remember I had to chase after him in a truck or something like that. The crowd was always gathering around us wherever we went. I also met beautiful girls in Hawaii then. Totally enjoyable work. I went back many more times to Hawaii after, because m parents bought two condos there as summer houses. I love the Hawaiian pace and night life and the good food. It’s not cheap, but fully enjoyable indeed. I met William Shatner again at the London movie convention in 2010.

In 1989 a TV movie pilot came along to give you a Co-Star leading role that was green lit the year after for a complete TV show season. You were signed up to reprise your lead man role as Jimmy Kee, one of a team of special undercover narcotics officers, whose identities were even kept secret from the government heads funding the department. The show was, Nasty Boys (1990) and ran for a full season of thirteen episodes. This seems to be a difficult show to get to see these days, but has all the ingredients of a great Action show of the 90’s that needs to be re-aired on TV & even given the DVD treatment. Please could you share your memories & thoughts about this exciting sounding show.

Nasty Boys was a great idea created by Dick Wolf. My character Jimmy Kee is like a combination of Don Johnson from Miami Vice and Bruce Lee together. I dressed like Don and punch like Bruce ! Nasty Boys was a great production. Many great actors and Directors were on this show. Michael Bay shot our promo video. I truly enjoyed making it, but it was short lived. A shame.

After Nasty Boys you had a very healthy run of solidly produced films, and quite a few Hong Kong productions. Did you move to China during this time for the hectic schedule that included the likes of, The Heroic Trio (1993), Love Among The Triad (1993), Crazy Hong Kong (1993), Lang xin ru tie (1993), The Maidens Of Heavenly Mountains (1994), Shanghai Fever (1994), Ma shen (1994), Enemy Shadow (1995) & Gates Of Hell (1995) ?

I had to get away from Hollywood and try Hong Kong, where my parents lived, because I asked myself, how much longer do I have to wait to get a leading role in a movie ? I played second & third banana to many big Hollywood stars already, but I don’t get to play the leading role in movies or TV Series. So I tried Hong Kong. Hong Kong is a hard market to crack, but I did & enjoyed it. I worked with the best of best among Directors and actors there.

How did you find the shooting & on set organisation style differences between American & Hong Kong (Asian) productions, and which do you prefer ?

A huge difference in terms of size of budget and professionalism. Hollywood shooting 35mm, and Hong Kong was still shooting with 16mm film stock. Hong Kong though has its own way of making movies. Raw and fast ! A movie can be shot in twenty days. Hollywood gave us a Trailer to wait and rest up in. Whereas in Hong Kong we sat on the floor or had to bring our own chair to sit in ! Hollywood had big catering trucks. In Hong Kong we were given a $3 lunch box ! But I have respect for the hard work that the Hong Kong crews put in. Back then though there was too much Mafia money investment in movies. Not my favourite group of people really. I got some threats from Mafia crews telling me what to do and not to do ! I simply ignored them. I said I know all the Italian mob boss in New York, they’re all my friends, and if you want to threaten me with your mob attitude, take a hike ! I don’t take shit like that ! So they stayed away from me, and I stayed away from them too. But over all it was fine.

The Heroic Trio (1993) & its sequel, Executioners (1993) were both Directed by the superb Johnnie To & the leading lady trio of the beautifully talented, Anita Mui, Michelle Yeoh & Maggie Cheung. How did you find the movie making style of Johnnie To, & just how lovely were those talented fantasy action star leading ladies ?

The Heroic Trio was a joy to work on with three such legendary Hong Kong female stars. I was lucky to have met Michelle Yeoh, who introduced me to the Director Johnnie To, and I got the role.

Anthony Wong appeared in both The Heroic Trio (1993) & Heroic Trio 2: Executioners (1993) went on to become one of Hong Kong / Asia’s most respected & recognised acting talents the world over. Throughout the 90’s he notoriously appeared in a vast number of Category III rated movies, including the shocking likes of, Ebola Syndrome (1996), The Untold Story 2 (1998) & A Lamb In Despair (1999).

Your movie, Gates Of Hell (1995) was also a CAT III rated film. Were you ever aware of the ratings applied to movies made in Hong Kong that you appeared in, & do you feel that receiving the Category III from the censors board helped or hindered the success of a movie ?

Category III can mean violence or indecent exposure scenes in it. But mine got Category III was because it was violent. I was asked to star in many movies requiring me to take off my pants, but I turned them down. I don’t believe in doing roles like that. I believe I’m an actor with substance, like Marlon Brando & Robert De Nero.

Another very famous star today of Hong Kong / Asian cinema is the terrific Simon Yam. He too though did his share of infamous CAT III movie, perhaps the most startling, even to this day, being the senses shattering, Run And Kill (1993). You worked alongside Simon Yam in, Love Among The Triad (1993), did you enjoy the experience & how did you find him as an actor & person at that stage of his career ?

Simon Yam was a Cool guy. He is what I called a PR man. He can speak to anyone and make them feel comfortable. Good actor too. He was also a Kung Fu guy in his early career.

Who have been your favourite movie making influences down the years for both Directors & Actors, from both Asian & American cinema ?

My favourite actors include Robert De Nero, Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Morgan Freeman, Yul Brynner, Toshiro Mifune. My favourite Directors, Akira Kurosawa, John Carpenter, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, RomanPolanski, Ridley Scott, David Lean & Francis Ford Coppola.

What is your preferred genre of film, & could you please share with us some of your favourite films that you have seen down the years ?

I like all types, but Drama, Action & Comedy films are my favourites. Black & white classic movies and Japanese Black & white Samurai related film.

Would you have ever liked to have collaborated with some of the more diverse film making country styles such as the French, Spanish or Italian or indeed any other World Cinema stage that you may care to divulge ?

Yes, French and Italian films I would have loved to have done. I was screen tested for The Lover (1992) by a famous French film maker. I didn’t get the part. Hong Kong actor Tony Leung got it instead to star alongside the very young British actress Jane March. But I always thought I should have gotten it. I don’t know what went wrong !? But in life you can’t have everything that you want ! But I would have loved to have played the role in that.

For the last twenty years you have been living in Beijing, China where you have been furthering your reputation & enhancing your film making & producing skills. The culmination of which I understand, with great excitement, that we may very soon receive notification of your most welcome return to the cinematic universe. Might you Please be able to share any news of what is in development & what fans of Action cinema can look forward to from you ?

I have spent five years writing a new project called, Pirate Warriors Of South China Sea. I hope to get it made in 2022. It is my dream project. It shall tell a historical story of real life High Seas Piracy in a dramatic panoramic film shot way. Showcasing incredible Kung Fu Action, along with all the period piece detail and fighting styles that I like.

The last time that we got to see you on screen was back in 2006 with the most impressive outing, The First Emperor (2006) in which you delivered a showcase lead performance as the emperor, alongside fellow Chinese stalwart of so very many big Fun action outings down the decades, Richard Ng. This was a massively well received picture that you should rightly be proud of. Just how much have you missed being involved with the movie making process, & how excited are you about your imminent return ?

I worked tirelessly for some three months preparing and shooting The First Emperor (2006) with English Director Nic Young. We spent good time in revising the script to make the character more profound and real. We experienced hot days filming during the summer that year. I lost twenty pounds in body weight & was sick after. But was all worth it. It was a success when it aired on Discovery USA & Channel 4 UK. All Television stations around the world had bought the viewing rights to it and it aired in three continents.

Is there a closing message that you may like to share with your fans & fellow lovers of Action Cinema & TV as to what we may all look forward to in the very near future from James Pax ?

I would like to give everyone the Best Wishes for 2021. Let’s get through this terrible Covid virus so that we can then get back to our normal lives & make everyone's life better. Like with myself, Don’t ever give up on your dreams. My motto, the minute you give up you lose ! You Don’t give up, you never lose ! Thus I’m still doing my best to chase after my dreams. Dream on !!!

James, Thank You. This has been a personal pleasure. On behalf of myself and Leo at the Geek Legion Of Doom, as well as the Channel following subscribers, and all Action Fu Fantasy, Asian / American Drama Television & Movie viewing lovers the world over, we very much look forward to 2021 and beyond as being the time that LIGHTNING strikes again !

Interview by Paul Cooke 10th January 2021

Full Video Interview With James Pax Now On YouTube:


Thank You To The Following Important People For Making All Of This Possible:

James Pax



Leo At The Geek Legion Of Doom



  1. Thank you Paul for the interview, i truly enjoyed it. james pax

    1. A Genuine Pleasure James. Really looking forward to seeing you back in Action :)